There are many, many ladder decks these days. However, the ever-present Secret Paladin is still the most popular, controlling the ladder and holding up the meta. As such, when choosing a deck to play you need to be able to take down Uther and his swarms of minions. Zoo, with its sticky minions and ability to swarm, is a deck that does that quite well against Paladin. While not extremely favored, it does give you one of the best chances to win this matchup. This guide will take a look at why that is.
When playing Zoo you need to choose what style you want to play. There are three popular versions. The first is aggressive with a low-curve, the second is a pure midrange list, and the third cuts down some low minions for more heavy hitters. All of those builds are very strong, and each has its strengths as well as its weaknesses. Never play a deck that you don’t like or one that you don’t understand. Playing something you know is very important. To help you understand the different options at your disposal, some sample decklists have been linked below.
When going up against Secret Paladin you cannot afford to have one bad turn. They have the best one-through-eight curve in the game and have an innate ability to draw everything they need. That means you need to exclusively mulligan for all of your small minions. Messing around is not an option here. Look for low and let the high-cost (or even midrange) cards come to you later on. The only exception to that rule is Defender of Argus and sometimes Imp-losion, both of which can be essential in this matchup.
Cards to KeepFlame Imp Abusive Sergeant Voidwalker Dark Peddler Dire Wolf Alpha Haunted Creeper Nerubian Egg Imp Gang Boss
Power Overwhelming should always be kept alongside a strong opening curve.
Knife Juggler can be kept alongside other early minions but is usually not strong enough to keep on its own.
Imp-losion can only be kept with the coin and if you have early drops to go along with it.
Defender of Argus can be kept with the coin and an early curve before it.
How to Win
The way to beat Secret Paladin is to control the board better than they do. You and your opponent are largely doing the exact same thing during this match, which is attempting to use your sticky minions to build into larger creatures. As a result, whoever can control the board largely control the game. However, understand that controlling the board is much more important for you because Zoo has very little ways to catch up, while a 6/6 and a bunch of secrets can put Paladin right back into the mix. If you fall behind you are most often going to lose, and you need to be as aggressive as possible
Another important part of this matchup is prediction. As stated, Secret Paladin has the most solid curve in the game. While that works for them (and is one of the reasons the deck is so strong), it can also work against them because you know what’s coming each turn. You know their possible turn two plays, that Muster for Battle comes on turn three, that Piloted Shredder is on four, Loatheb on five, etc. Knowledge truly is power in Hearthstone, and mapping out how your opponent is going to play helps you set up your buffs and understand when to use them. Never use valuable resources to kill a small minion when a much larger one is coming next turn.
Lastly, you always want to be looking for ways to push damage through. Paladin loves sitting back, trading and hitting until turns six, seven and eight when they can just let their giant minions end the game. However, if they are forced to trade, or are forced to care about the board, their power gets a lot weaker. Make them care about the board as much as possible and force them to trade. This is the best way to slowly wear them out cards and let Lifetap give you the advantage.
Early Game Strategy
As stated, a lot of this game is going to play out based on the way the early turns go. You want to get all of your low-cost minions early and do everything you can to prevent Paladin from getting any steam into the middle turns of the game. The overall rule here is to clear, clear and clear some more. While pressure can come alongside that, you never want to risk ignoring the board.
Abusive Sergeant is one of your best opening cards. Not only does this card let you trade up into things like Secretkeeper, but it also allows you to pop your deathrattle cards. Most Secret Paladins do not run AOE, which means anytime you can trade in a deathrattle minion you should.
Knife Juggler is perhaps the strongest minion for either side. The 3/2 does a lot work on its own, but its ability can just crush the other side of the board, whether it is clearing out a Flame Imp or Muster for Battle. Try to protect yours as much as possible, and kill theirs at all costs. Trading one-for-one is never that great when playing Zoo, but you need to make sure your opponent never gets a Juggler to stick.
You need to take the time to carefully play around secrets. The three big ones you want to watch out for are Noble Sacrifice, Avenge and Redemption. While it is much easier to play around sacrifice, you still want to be aware of its existence and always attack with high-health or deathrattle minions first. The other two are even more problematic. You want to always check for Redemption on their non-sticky minions and only trigger Avenge if you have a way to instantly kill off the buff.
Turn six. That is what this is all about. While the whole game is about fighting for board, Mysterious Challenger and co. is where Secret Paladin really starts to flex its muscles. If you do not have board by the time the six drop comes down the game starts to rapidly slip away. Know this and try your best to amass an army to deal with the secrets when they get summoned.
Defender of Argus is your best tool in this game. Not only does it protect you from a lot of Paladin’s larger minions, but it can also freeze them out during a race. While you want to hit deathrattle minions with the buff, you also should not hesitate to put this down onto the board. Anytime you have two minions and that you can use to control the board you should play the four drop.
Power Overwhelming is another great tool for the middle game. This is a card that can be used to great effect to stop an Avenge early on, but is also your best weapon to combat Paladin’s larger mid-game minions and buffs. Save this for the turn five-eight threats if you can help it.
Watch out for Blessing of Kings. Just like Mysterious Challenger, this card can create a monster that you will have a very hard time dealing with. While you cannot always clear out all of Paladin’s minions, you need to have this card somewhere in your mind so that it doesn’t take you completely by surprise. Even trading away a Silver Hand Recruit is often more important than getting in extra damage if it comes before turn four.
Late Game Strategy
The end of the game is very tricky because it can go either way. The reason is that you and your opponent are going to rely on big minions to carry you through to the end of the game. Whoever gets one to stick onto a small or relatively empty board will most likely win the day. Leverage your larger minions and do your best to get yours down early and often.
Both of you run Dr. Boom, and you need to try to get the seven drop out before they do. As with most games involving the legendary doctor, having him in play for the opponent is an incredible swing and allows you to dictate the way trading occurs. That gets even better with a deck that runs a ton of buffs like Zoo. This is always the correct turn seven play unless you need to immediately answer your opponent’s Mysterious Challenger they dropped on turn six.
Tirion Fordring is by far your biggest problem in this matchup. However, while he is one of the strongest legendaries in the game, his deathrattle is quite weak when Paladin is under a lot of pressure or when they don’t have control of the board. As such, try and treat him in the same way you would treat Lord Jaraxxus. If you have a board that can trade into Tirion while also pushing through damage he won’t be that big a problem.
If you run Sea Giant, always try to set it up early even if it means not killing some of your opponent’s minions. Outside of Keeper of Uldaman, Secret Paladin can do just about nothing against an 8/8 on turn four or five. This is the easiest matchup to get an early giant due to the amount of minions that Zoo and Paladin both play.